JAMES KIRKUP POLITICAL EDITOR
Scotsman – MI6 has warned that Iran could direct terrorist attacks on British interests, if talks over its nuclear programme fail.
The assessment emerged yesterday in a report by MPs and peers who were given access to the confidential work of Britain’s intelligence agencies.
Surveying the main security threats facing Britain, the committee reported that Iran looms large in the agency’s assessment. "There is increasing international tension over Iran’s nuclear programme and backing of groups such as Lebanese Hezbollah," the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) said in its annual report.
"There is a possibility of an increased threat to UK interests from Iranian state-sponsored terrorism, should the diplomatic situation deteriorate," the report added.
The unusually stark public warning is at odds with recent British government pronouncements on Iran. With European Union-led talks on Iran’s nuclear programme apparently progressing well, Britain has taken a more conciliatory line in recent weeks.
In particular, a Foreign Office claim that the Iranian government is directly responsible for insurgent attacks on British troops in southern Iraq has been quietly withdrawn, in a diplomatic gesture meant to soothe relations with Tehran.
The ISC report did not elaborate on the potential threat from Iran, but the Islamic regime in Tehran has previously been accused of supporting and arming militant groups operating both in the Middle East and around the world.
The committee also confirmed that Britain still faces "a serious and sustained threat" from groups and individuals inspired by Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network.
Meanwhile yesterday, the Cabinet met in London to review Britain’s counter-terrorism strategy. A government report explaining anti-terror measures to the public will be published next month, Downing Street confirmed.
– The Home Office wants to tighten laws preventing intelligence officers disclosing official secrets and introduce stiffer penalties for whistle-blowers.